Remember when…..the last day of #armstreaty negotiations
Written by Anna Macdonald, Director of Control Arms Secretariat
I like this photo. It’s not my best, it’s slightly out of focus, as my camera phone was shakily held above my head, and it just looks like a big crowd of suited people. But I like it because it captures the sense of unstoppable momentum from back then as long days and nights of negotiations were coming to an end, and as I struggled, along with hundreds of diplomats and campaigners to get into the plenary room for the last day of Arms Trade Treaty negotiations in March 2013.
I like it because I remember how at that point I was also vividly recalling the day when we launched the Control Arms Campaign back in 2003, when only 3 governments (Costa Rica, Mali and Cambodia) supported the idea of an Arms Trade Treaty to stop weapons that fuel conflict and human rights abuse. Back in 2003, there were no rooms crowded with governments arguing about what should be in the ATT. Most thought the idea crazy, and it took intense campaigns to raise it up the political agenda.
But here I was in March 2013, and the interest in the ATT was so high that you could literally barely get in the room. In fact, security emptied it once, insisting it was overcrowded, and a second conference room was set up as overspill, with video screens showing the final roller coaster moments of the negotiations. In a distinctly undiplomatic moment, two Ambassadors physically scuffled at the door with each other to get in, while security guards looked on rather bewildered – its not every day people literally fight to get into UN meetings.
It was a big day. We had won the debate. It was way past “if” there should be an ATT, it was even past “what” should be in it – now we were on the home run. No matter that in those last crowded hours Syria, Iran and North Korea joined forces late into the night to block consensus, and prevent the ATT being adopted right then. But we knew momentum was on our side, and only four short days later I sat in the UN General Assembly hall watching the giant digital screen in front, flickering with its 154 green lights for “yes” and indicating the Treaty was adopted by vote, and a resounding one at that. Many Control Arms campaigners, including survivors of armed violence, were in the gallery cheering together at the outcome of the vote.
That momentum has continued, with States rushing to sign the ATT as soon as it opened for signature in June 2013, and ratifications soon following. Entering into force only 18 months after that, the ATT now has 72 States Parties, and a further 59 signatories many of whom will ratify soon.
Next week I, along with many other campaigners, and governments from all the ratifying and signatory countries will fly to Mexico, where we will take part in the first “Conference of States Parties” of the ATT – the first annual meeting of the Treaty, where progress is assessed, and standards of implementation decided upon. It doesn’t sound the most exciting topic – but it really matters. This first meeting will set the standards for years to come, and now that we have the words on the paper, we really need the action on the ground. We all crowded in that room in the UN because we wanted to achieve something that would save lives. The ATT can do that – but governments are going to need to work hard next week to ensure they really live up to the aims and aspirations of this very new, and very important Treaty.
Anna Macdonald is the Director of the Control Arms Secretariat. She has worked on the Arms Trade Treaty since 2002. Follow her on Twitter @annamac33.
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